"I suppose, nay I am quite sure, I shall never write another book like [Tropic of Cancer]. It was like a surgical operation. And out of it I emerged whole again. Though when I embarked on it, it was with no intention to cure myself of anything--rather to rid, to divest myself of the horrible wounds that I had allowed to fester in me."
--- Henry Miller, April 11, 1933 [Letters to Emil]
Tropic Of Cancer is Henry Miller's most famous work. It's been celebrated and vilified, smuggled and seized, declared obscene and declared one of the classic works of Literature. Here are fifteen moments in the history of Tropic Of Cancer.
NOTE: This posting will be expanded over the next couple of weeks. For now, here are details about the first five moments.
1. 1931. The idea: Fuck eveything.
... August 25.
On the day Miller finished writing his long-unpublished (and inferior) Crazy Cock
, he wrote from the Hotel Central
in Paris to his friend Emil Schnellock
in New York: "I start tomorrow on the Paris book: first person, uncensored, formless--fuck everything!"
[Letters To Emil
, p.80] Originally to be called The Last Book
, Miller intended to write as honest an account of his previous year in Paris as possible, with particular emphasis on grit, reflecting the despair and seediness his poverty had exposed him to: "It's like a big, public garbage can ... Only the mangy cats are missing. But I'll get them in yet."
[letter to Ned Schnellock, qtd in Always Merry And Bright
by Jay Martin, p. 251].
2. 1931. The charity of others allows Henry the time to write the book.
... Henry worked on Cancer
while staying in the homes of other people, from Alfred Perles
' Hotel Central room to lawyer Richard Osborn's apartment at 2 rue Auguste-Bartholdi. Every morning, Osborn left ten francs on Henry's writing table, and when he returned, therewas always a new batch of writing. Anais Nin heard about the writing of this novel before she even met Henry: "[Osborn's] other monologue concerns his friend Henry Miller. Henry Miller is writing a book one thousand pages long which has everything in it that is left out of other novels."
[The Diary of Anais Nin
, Vol 1 1931-1934, p. 7]. Miller: "If anybody had written a preface for it they might have explained that the book was written on the wing, as it were, between my 25 addresses."
[April 26, 1934; letter to Nin, A Literate Passion
, p. 231.)
3. 1932. First draft is completed.
In his letters to Anais Nin from July 1932, Miller announces that he's writing the final pages of his book; writing from his apartment in Clichy
, he asks which she likes better: the title I Sing The Equator
, or Tropic Of Cancer
? [A Literate Passion
, pp. 65-82]. The manuscript is revised considerably since he began a year earlier: "I'm sending you, as a gift, the first hundred pages or so, the original draft. It has undergone some drastic changes in the rewrite, but loses none of its violence, obscenity, or defamation of character. But I ask you as a great favor not to show that around. Emil, this is a really swell book--and unique. I think it will cause a riot, and, at the same time, prove a seller--just because it is sensational in character. But shit! I'll stop bragging."
[Letters to Emil
, July 12, 1932.]
When the book is published in 1934, it will be three times shorter than the first draft. [Henry Miller: A Life by Robert Ferguson, p. 229]. The original typescript also contains the original names of the people he based the characters on, instead of the aliases that were later used. [HM and James Laughlin: Selected Letters, p.19]
4. 1932. Publishing deal with Obelisk Press.
... Anais Nin helped Henry shop his manuscript around. Cancer
impressed lit agent William A. Bradley
, who took Henry on as a client. Around October 1932, Jack Kahane of Oblelisk Press
in Paris expressed an interest in publishing it. [By the end of November, a deal had been inked with Obelisk: "Am signed up, bound hand and foot, for three books by the publisher,"
Henry wrote to Emil Schnellock (Letters to Emil
, Nov. 28, 1932). Anais helps grease the wheels by raising financial backing for the Obelisk publication.
Front pages from the second edition of Tropic of Cancer
(Obelisk Press, Sept 1935)
5. 1933. Publication is delayed, to follow his book on Lawrence.
... February 1933 was originally supposed to be the release date for Tropic of Cancer
, but Jack Kahane felt that the controversial book might be better received if Henry is first established as a serious
writer [Letters to Emil
, p. 91]. To do this, Henry works furiously on a "brochure" of literary analysis of D.H. Lawrence
(meant to be followed in a series to include Joyce and Proust) [ibid
, April 11, 1933]. The project became too much for Henry, and would only be published decades later as The World of Lawrence
. In the meantime, Henry continued to proof and revise Tropic of Cancer
6. 1934. First edition is published by Obelisk Press in Paris.
7. 1934. Banned in the United States.
10. 1940. The Medvsa edition is one of many bootlegged editions.
11. 1950. Seized by Customs officials and the subject of an obscenity trial.
12. 1961. Grove Press publishes the first American edition.
13. 1964. The Supreme Court declares that the novel is not obscene.
14. 1970. Feature film adaptation released.
15. 1986. Still being banned in countries like Turkey and South Africa.